Driven. This is the only way to describe Iva Pekárková's Gimme the Money (Dej mi ty prachy, 1996), impeccably translated from Czech into New York slang by the author herself and her husband Raymond Johnston. Fresh, gutsy, hilarious, the novel is one terrific (and terrifying) joy-ride through New York, propelled by a Czech taxi driver—a woman taxi driver at that.
The fast-paced plot rivets the reader's attention completely; there is simply no way to put the book down once one has begun this rollicking roller-coaster ride. Intrigue, passion, delicious detail, crazy characters—this novel has something for everyone. It is a novel of epic proportions, reminiscent of Jack Kerouac's On The Road, yet, in its anecdotes it also zooms in close-up to capture intimate intricacies of City life in sharp shots paralleling Jim Jarmusch's film Night on Earth.
Buckle your seat belt
Forget the glassy ordinariness of cab-rides you have experienced in the past! And, with Gimme the Money, get into the driver's seat to discover first-hand that every pick-up is "speckled with little shards of adventures" (p 114). As Gin, our heroine, explains, "Every real taxi story is like a short story mystery novel with the first and the last few pages torn off" (p 118).
The plot follows the exploits of Jindřiška, a somewhat naive and trusting Czech immigrant, who becomes wise to the ways of the world in her encounters with foreboding New York and its outrageous inhabitants. In the end, she becomes Gin, a spirit as tough as the City itself.
Mesmerized, the reader observes this metamorphosis unfold through a myriad of adventures, as Gin deftly maneuvers her way (and will) with slippery taxi drivers, punk clients, exasperating lovers and even psychotic killers. Ultimately, Gin becomes the sum total all of these multi-faceted tones, which make up the throbbing pulse of the City, so that "submerged into the City, (like it was a whirling foam)... every cell of your body got permeated by its rhythm, its plasma circled in your veins, and therefore you became, just like everyone else, a building block, a cell, a molecule in that humongous, colorful mosaic..." (p 34).
Traces of a Czech past
Although her thick Slavic accent learns to meld with the groove of Ha-a-lem, in the throes of passion, it still whispers solo in Czech; and though her body is marked by the brutality of the streets, it still preserves that old appendectomy scar lousily sewn up in Czechoslovakia—in all, despite her hard-knock street education, Gin's original spirit remains undaunted. Indeed, the novel is a Bildungsroman, but it is a cool, fresh, hip, happenin' version of the genre. In fact, the book transcends, no, defies, any and all generic categorization, because, unlike the ordinary novel, it so clearly arises from real life.
Pekárková belongs to that "brotherhood of those who DARED" (p 19), as she describes it in her book. She herself, upon leaving Czechoslovakia, worked as one of the few female taxi drivers in New York. Her descriptions are those of a veteran:
When night drivers arrive home at night and fall into bed, the film of everything they'd seen on their shift, of everything they drove past, gets projected onto their eyelids… With the conviction that THEY are not drivers of taxicabs. They are actors. And writers. And screenwriters. And visual artists…On the spool thread of Gin's head, a whole movie sequence was being filmed, about 200 miles a day, and every morning as she was falling asleep, the dailies were getting projected in her head, projected, rewound and fast-forwarded... Days and nights got fused into a single yellowish tint, the reel of the film got melted together, and you couldn't see though it—except in multiple exposure, and each time she went to sleep to the cooing of pigeons, the City reverberated in her head like a single clear, crisp tone of a golden gong (pp 50-51, 54-55).
In Gimme the Money, Pekárková, the former cab driver, became the Czech Republic's hottest new writer, screenwriter and visual artist as she transformed these melting multiple exposures and this cacophonous metropolis into sharp crystal-clear images with penetrating prose.